Right Place, Wrong Dime

    It’s no secret that the University of California’s undergraduate population is disproportionate to the racial makeup of the state — enrollment figures for blacks, Latinos and other underrepresented minorities lag far behind their white and Asian counterparts, especially at first-tier campuses like UC Berkeley, UCLA and UCSD.

    What’s also clear is the danger of completely disregarding the disadvantages of lower-resource schooling in the UC admission process. The solution to the larger national problem of self-sustained poverty must be institutionalized, because if there is no chance provided to climb the occupational ladder that is higher education, economic scales have little to no chance of shifting.

    When California voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996, race consideration ceased to be a legal factor in admission to the 10-campus system, and university officials have been seeking ways to compensate ever since. Community outreach programs directed toward minorities were founded in an effort to boost enrollment, and some campuses imposed holistic admissions systems allowing a more subjective examination of applications. Student-provided information about character and background alongside grades and test scores are now considered in admission decisions — a change that has indeed seen increased minority enrollment. At UCLA, a switch to this system led to a 100-percent increase in the number of blacks admitted to the campus over the previous year.

    Now, after receiving UC President Mark G. Yudof’s blessing, the Board of Regents is preparing a significant alteration to the university admissions process that will change decades-old policies regarding the percentage of high-school graduates guaranteed a spot within the university, as well as offer students who have not completed all of the required “a-g” college-prep courses or taken certain standardized tests an avenue to higher-education opportunity. UC proponents believe the changes would create more diversity within the student population by providing a larger and more varied applicant pool.

    Specifically, the plan calls for reducing guaranteed admission (to at least one UC campus) from the top 12.5 percent of all California high-school graduates to 9.7 percent, while in turn promising a slot on at least one university’s acceptance list to those in the top 9 percent of their senior class, up from the current 4 percent. Though this would not hugely affect the pool of high achievers who are accepted based on the current system, it would widen the doors for those attending high schools in poorer areas, perhaps lacking Advanced Placement opportunities and the proper counseling to assist them through the rigorous UC admission requirements.

    The proposal would also give — for the first time — students with a minimum unweighted grade-point average of 2.8 a chance to receive a full comprehensive review of their application by their preferred campuses, instead of the previous bar at an honors-weighted 3.0. It would drop the SAT II Subject Test requirement for all applicants and offer students who are missing one or two required classes a chance to apply under a new category called “entitled to review.” In these ways, the new plan is a fair solution to the disappointingly low numbers of minority students currently being accepted to the university.
    There is, of course, one glaring contradiction to this proposal, and it’s one none too foreign — money, or lack thereof.

    The state’s 2008-09 UC budget, announced early last week, will maintain UC spending possibilities at their currently strained state, hardly even supporting the growing number of admits the university already sees under the more exclusive system currently in practice. The new alterations would allow about 20 percent of California high-school graduates the opportunity to be considered for admission to the university instead of the current 12.5 percent. So, up against each other, how could the ever-tightening budget possibly support a 7.5 percent review increase in the number of college-bound Californians?

    Most obviously, more applicants means a need for more manpower in the assessment process, already a monstrous operation that takes time and unavailable dollars to sustain.

    Most frighteningly, unless we are to sacrifice the quality of existing student life — including class size, campus resources and affordability — there will have to be a greater rejection rate to balance out the ballooned eligibility. And, if the new system is to be effective and a greater number of minorities are accepted who wouldn’t have been academically eligible before — and they aren’t all just sent to UC Merced or UC Riverside, as often does happen in the “guarantee” process — there will be an inevitable increase in rejection letters sent to the pool of applicants who had better access to resources, and who perhaps reached higher academic marks.

    What the comprehensive review process will see is a magnification of its most controversial parts — those which center around trickily subjective applicant traits. How to determine exactly who didn’t have the opportunity to fulfill a requirement, or where a personal hardship should outweigh an academic achievement?

    So, if there doesn’t magically appear some endless source of outside funding, and this new all-inclusive plan does pan out as planned, just let it be known that progressive inclusions will not come without a sacrifice of many university-qualified students on the other end of the spectrum. With a wishing well so shallow and dreams so big, this cake can’t be had and eaten too.

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